Whether he was working for Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign or advising a first-time politician, Minneapolis attorney Bill Mullin could be counted on to deliver for the Democratic Party.
Mullin, 83, died March 10 after a 10-year battle with apraxia, a motor disorder that left him unable to speak for the past three years.
“I was very close to Bill for 30 years — he was a star in my office when I was a young attorney general,” said former Vice President Walter Mondale. “I believe he was the most respected family lawyer in Minneapolis. He was a wonderful Minnesotan.”
Mullin’s love of politics started as a child at family dinners, where he watched relatives spar over the news of the day. The debates were often led by his father, W. Edward Mullin — a successful grain trader active in conservative politics — and his uncle, Gerald Mullin, who served 28 years in the Legislature as a Democrat.
“We all got our first taste of politics at those family dinners, where my dad and Ed were going at it,” said Jim Mullin, Gerald’s son. “It was always cordial.”
After obtaining his law degree in 1958 from the University of Minnesota, Mullin joined the U.S. Attorney General’s Office. When Humphrey mounted his presidential campaign in 1960, Mullin volunteered. As an advance man, he coordinated logistical details for out-of-state rallies.
He used those same skills in local races. Former Judge Frank Knoll, who spent eight years in the Legislature, credits his political career to Mullin, who brought Humphrey, Mondale and other heavyweights to his first backyard brat-and-beer fundraisers.
“It was really kind of amazing,” Knoll said. “The backyard would just be flooded with people. And a lot of it was Bill’s influence. People really respected him.”
In his book on politics, local attorney David Lebedoff said there were just two reasons Mullin would call: lunch or money. “Bill was good at fundraising,” Lebedoff said.
Over the decades, Mullin helped raise millions of dollars for Democratic candidates. He also was quick with his own checkbook. In recent years, he was a big contributor to President Barack Obama, giving the maximum allowed. He attended Obama’s first inauguration.
Mullin’s other passion was family law. He founded his own firm in 1964 and later joined the Maslon firm, from which he retired in 2011. He frequently donated his time to the Children’s Law Center, where he helped abused children find new homes with foster parents.
One of his biggest court victories came in 1997, when he quashed a subpoena from a prosecutor who was trying to force the center’s attorney into testifying against the father of a young girl she was representing. Such testimony would have violated the attorney’s relationship with the girl, who thought her statements were confidential, said Gail Chang Bohr, a longtime director of the center.
“That was a groundbreaking victory,” Bohr said. “If we’d lost that case, I think the center wouldn’t have been able to represent children. Because every time you turned around someone would be trying to subpoena one of our lawyers.”
Friends and colleagues said Mullin was idealistic, generous and gregarious, someone who often laughed before he got to the punch line of a joke. He made a great first impression. Chouhei Min, his wife of 43 years, said Bill had to use all his charms to persuade her South Korean father to attend their wedding.
“My dad said he was going to kill himself when I said I was going to marry this man, but he came around,” said Min, a former violinist with the Minnesota Orchestra. “Bill was my Rock of Gibraltar.”
Services will be held Friday at the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, starting at 11 a.m.